Word count: 1338. Sorry, but I ended up having to delete my old post due to some stuff-ups, so I'm re-posting.
The blood of the temple’s defenders stained Zed’s polished blades. Around him, bodies were scattered on the floor, faces frozen in shock and terror. Zed took in his surroundings, breathed in deeply, and set off towards a flight of stairs at the end of a wide corridor, decorated with shining pillars of redstone. At long last he had found the rumoured temple of the Kinkou Order, constructed after their defeat at the old temple. When he reached the base of the stairs, Zed looked up and saw Shen staring down at him with a calm demeanour. ‘Why have you come?’ questioned Shen.
‘This is the final time you will ask that of me.’
‘After all this time, you still haven’t changed your ways.’
‘The shadows are the only way!’ Zed spat, but Shen was already gone. ‘Your cowardice will be punished by death!’ Zed screamed, echoes bouncing off the walls, silhouettes, shadows of his voice. His shadows carried him up the stairs, and he glided through the stretching corridors of the temple, gleaming redstone becoming polished marble, stairs with gold inlaid carpets covering them, until a gust of air blew the shadows away from him, leaving Zed standing on the roof of the temple.
‘Do you feel no regret in your heart?’
‘Regret is the seed of self-destruction, deadly as any disease that has plagued Runeterra.’
‘Regret is merely self-reflection, not destruction. You imply that your past is destroying you.’
‘A hundred years of slaughter and hatred could destroy the heart of any man… Any man except the one with a heart darker than darkness itself.’
Shen’s face had not changed, but when he spoke his voice sounded weary with the weight of time: ‘I do not yet believe you are that far gone.’
The two stood, in silence, watching each other, watching and waiting. _Why are you waiting?_ Shen stiffened visibly, Zed moved forward a step. _Now is your chance. End it all._
‘What… is that voice?’ Shen asked cautiously, stepping backwards towards the edge of the roof.
‘You hear it.’ Zed stepped closer still. Shen stepped back further.
‘That voice is of the spirit world… I warn you, do not listen to it lest it consume you.’
_Foolish. It is too late for that now, has he not already told you so?_
Shen stepped back once more, and silently slipped over the edge of the roof, into the canopy of the trees below. While Zed dashed to where Shen had been moments ago, a soft laughing began in the background, slowly rising.
Students in the Northern Quadrant, raised from their slumber by the distant sound of screams of anger, peered out their windows and saw what appeared at first glance to be a living shadow, a cloud of darkness. But what they was in reality a man surrounded by shadows so densely that no one on the outside could see the one on the inside: Zed. He followed the dirt trail that led through the woods, and though he knew not where it led, in a sense he did. The shadows in the trees laughed at him, the shadows behind him pushed him onward, the shadows in front taunted him. Soon the dirt below Zed’s feet turned into a cobblestone pathway, and the dense woods parted to reveal a small stone structure, simple in design yet beautiful. A shrine, Zed realised, and with a shudder realised where this path had led him: the memorial shrine of Master Kusho, the man he had once killed, the father of his rival. Shen stood waiting for him at the entrance, watching the shadows around Zed fade away to reveal a man wearing no armour, no mask, only ordinary clothes. All over his arms and legs, Zed’s skin was covered in spots of darkness, his mortal body beginning to fade away, turning to shadows.
‘It was no lie, it seems,’ Shen stated plainly. ‘If it must be so, face me here, at my father’s resting place. Finish what you started so long ago.’ With those words still hanging in the air, Shen drew his twin blades of spirit and steel and faced Zed with a face of stone.
With a scream, Zed, fully armoured once more, flung himself in Shen’s direction, blades outstretched. The shadows came from all directions, battering Shen, who barely deflected the heavy blows, both sabres gracefully slicing through air and shadow alike. In the background, the laughter slowly began to rise, a sharp, unnerving sound, somehow clear over the sounds of battle.
After what seemed an eternity, Shen sheathed his sabres, and once more faced Zed as the dust settled in its place.
‘You have no power ove-‘ Shen fell silent, and looked down to see a curved steel blade protruding from his chest, blood already starting to seep from the wound. Slowly, the blade withdrew, and Shen fell to his knees. ‘How…’
Shen whirled around, ignoring the pain that arced through his body. Facing him was a beast of shadow, it’s figure flickering, seeming to slide in and out of existence. It was not the flickering, however, that made Shen tremble with fear. It was the mask the creature wore, and although it was beginning to fade away, it was unmistakable: the monster was wearing Zed’s mask. Before long, the mask ceased to exist, leaving only the creature’s true face, a terrifying contortion of darkness, a writhing of shadows that formed a face devoid of any features aside from eyes that glowed a bright white.
Shen’s gaze fell to the ground, forgetting the wound in his chest which was slowly killing him, a man many saw as immortal, almost omnipotent. For the first time since he was a child, Shen felt hopeless.
Long before Zed was adopted by his father, Shen was walking in the woods that bordered the great temple. Here, surrounded by the soft sounds of creatures scurrying through the undergrowth, he was able to be at peace, away from the loud sounds of training the he had come to expect from his home. It was under one particular tree, a great redwood taller than any other, that Shen found a squirrel lying on the ground. Shen knew immediately that the creature was in great pain; many of its small limbs trembled, and although it was still breathing, the squirrel’s eyes saw nothing.
‘What will you do?’
Shen twisted around and saw his father approaching, eyes on the squirrel lying before Shen. ‘It is in pain, father. It needs help, quickly, or it will die.’
‘Answer the question. What will you do?’
‘I want to save it, father,’ Shen stated with a firm voice.
‘This squirrel is beyond saving, surely you have realised that already.’
‘Is it not part of our duty to try?’ Shen watched as his father knelt down, and with one hand, picked up the squirrel.
‘Sometimes, to maintain the balance…’ Shen jumped as a sharp twist of his father’s hand snapped the squirrel’s neck, and looked on helplessly as the limp body fell to the ground. ‘We have to the do right thing, no matter the cost to others… or ourselves.’ When Shen’s father had disappeared through the trees, Shen still knelt on the ground. But he felt no pain, no sadness. His mind remained empty of emotions as his small hands dug a grave, and slowly filled the soft soil back in, covering the still body of the squirrel.
Shen looked up at the creature before him, the thing he once knew as Zed. ‘That day, when you came back to the temple. What made you cry out in pain?’
After a moment of hesitation, Zed replied:
_In your father’s eyes, I saw my future. What I saw terrified me. But no longer. Now, I have accepted my path._
‘If only my father had known the pain and suffering his decision to banish you would cause. He failed to keep the balance. But I will not.’ And with that, Shen picked up his sabres.